Biden on Obama

In this very new and uncharted territory of the 2008 presidential race (one female candidate and an African-American candidate, both very serious runners), one man has already slipped and there are doubtless more blunders to be made. Joseph Biden’s recent evaluation of Barack Obama is a telling sign of the unconscious racism in the current political scene. Biden is quoted by the New York Observer as saying:
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
One might say that Biden was simply adorning Obama with compliments but to call him articulate is certainly an act of unconscious racism. The comparison may have been to admittedly eccentric past black candidates such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Nonetheless, Biden would have never used such an adjective regarding a white politician. It is clear that Obama is a competent contender and so it goes without saying that he is articulate. No candidate (without the help of Karl Rove) could get anywhere in politics without some ability to speak well. The adjective “clean” didn’t help Biden much either; he clearly messed up his entrance into this race.

Biden apologized soon after his remark but he’ll have to climb out of the hole he’s dug himself unless he wants to go the way of George Allen.


cody said...

Of course this is not the first time Biden has tripped up on the presidential campaign trail: in 1987 Biden was forced to withdrawal from the 1988 Democratic primary race (which Dukakis won) because of charges of plagiarism (Washington Post, on Biden in 1987).

What's more interesting than Biden's history of tactical mistakes on the campaign trail is that this one may not even be that severe of a blunder. True, Biden has had to go on an all-out apology tour (New York Times, on Biden's apologies), but let's face it, there certainly exists a segment of the American population that does not see the need for apologies. The race against Obama will unfortunately be inexorably tied to race, and Biden's comments go a long way towards subtly building support and earning empathy from those people not ready to see an African-American in the White House.

On a related note, Biden's remark "So, how was YOUR week?" in the same NY Times link, is a throwback to George Stephanopoulos, who first used the line in 1993 as a way to disarm reporters after being fired as White House communications director (hey, I've been reading George's memoir). Guess Biden can't help "borrowing" material from others.

RT said...

One, in my opinion,Biden may only have been trying to complement Obama. However, his words are ripe with a systematic acceptance of an American society which stereotypes many African American men into social constructs that don't include "articulate, bright, and clean". Biden may not have been trying to typecast minority men in general, or even espouse words that may seem racist, but his attempt to justify Obama's success due to his "unorthodox" composition is what is most harmful. Obama is not "unorthodox" among African-American men, on the contrary, many African American men are "clean, articulate, and bright". I direct all to the MSNBC conversation that Ann Coulter and Micheal Eric Dyson had, in which both agreed that this subtle acceptance that African American men are not naturally "bright and articulate" only preserves harmful stereotypes and reinforces deleterious undertones of our social milieu.

In addition this cannot just be due to Biden's "unfamilirity" with African American men. On the contrary, the whole Congressional Black Caucus (whom he works with everyday), is comprised of "clean, articulate, and bright people". In addition, Delaware's (which he represents) largest city, Wilmington, is a majority black city, whose mayor, is "clean, articulate, and bright".

In any case, Biden made a slip up of words. He may have been trying to hail Obama's unique appeal to the mainstream, but what he ended up saying was something far more "inarticulate, dirty, and dim".